American Hustle Ending, Explained: How Does Irving Con Richie?

David O. Russel’s ‘American Hustle’ is a critically acclaimed crime drama that brings a new take on the classic American Dream story by employing conmen and the law at its center. After its release in 2013, this movie was highly praised by a number of critics and even bagged 10 Oscar nominations. The phenomenal ensemble cast consisting of Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence all received rave reviews. Adams and Lawerence even went on to win Golden Globes for their performances. The plot of this movie is largely driven by its characters, with Irving and Sydney, two con artists, at the forefront, along with FBI agent Richie.

Inspired by real-life events of the 1970s Abscam Scandal, the movie explores the idea of desperate wanting and the different ways it manifests in people. Though it takes key plot elements from reality, it still affords itself a healthy amount of artistic liberty. The movie uses a cast of quirky, chaotic characters to create a cohesive narrative. If you’re wondering how these characters get themselves out of the sticky situations they stumble into, then here is everything you need to know about the ending of ‘American Hustle.’ SPOILERS AHEAD!

American Hustle Plot Synopsis

‘American Hustle’ follows the story of Irving Rosenfeld, a conman who starts off by scamming people in desperate need of a loan. After his girlfriend, Sydney Prosser, joins him, Irving’s scams start reaping huge profits. Their relationship, though by no means perfect, what with Irving already having a wife and a kid, is put to the test when an FBI agent named Richie catches them in a sting operation. The two are then forced to work for Richie to help him catch other con artists like themselves, but as the scope of their operation grows, so do Richie’s ambitions.

Mayor Carmine Polito of New Jersey and his dream of helping his community by rebuilding Atlantic City presents the trio with a risky opportunity to go after corrupt congressmen and senators. Coming up with a scam, dubbed “The Abscam Operation,” involving an Arab Sheik, millions of dollars that don’t exist, and an uncooperative boss, the three find themselves running the biggest cons of their lives. But when Irving, Sydney, and Richie cross paths with the mafia, their delicate and dangerous hustle is put in jeopardy by Irving’s wild card wife, Rosalyn. Caught in lies, romance, and actual mobsters, Irving and Sydney try to come out of this complicated situation unharmed.

American Hustle Ending: How Does Irving Con Richie?

Richie first meets Irving after going undercover as one of the financially desperate marks that Irving and Sydney (under the alias of Lady Edith Greensley) liked to target. Richie eventually launches the Abscam Operation after successfully arresting Sydney and using it against Irving to get the two of them to help him take down other like-minded criminals. As the operation grows, the dynamic between these three characters also shifts. Richie and Sydney get closer and become romantically entangled with one another. This progression in their relationship causes some tension between Richie and Irving.

Though Richie never seems to hold anything against Irving personally, Irving is weary of Richie from the start. Richie’s constant greed for the operation to get bigger and bigger keeps putting Irving and Sydney in increasing danger. What had started off as a con to catch low-key scam artists like Irving rapidly turns into an investigation against influential politicians— with the deadly mafia boss Tellegio involved. Irving tries to keep a handle on things, even as they get messier— however, the situation really slips out of his hands when his wife, Rosalyn, gets involved with one of the mob guys, Pete. Tellegio is already suspicious of the whole debacle, and these suspicions only grow after Rosalyn slips Pete some sensitive information about Irving’s plans. As a result, a few mafia guys threaten Irving and Mayor Carmine. Gun to his head, Irving’s survival instincts kick in, and he finally comes up with a way to get himself and Sydney out of this convoluted bind once and for all.

He promises a 2 million wire transfer to the mafia in order to prove his Sheik client’s legitimacy. Following this, Sydney, Richie, and Irving walk into Tellegio’s attorney, Alfonse Simone’s office— the only place Tellegio is willing to meet for such an encounter. However, once they get to the office, Tellegio isn’t there. Though Richie is at first reluctant to go through with the transfer without Tellegio present, Sydney convinces him otherwise. Following permission from Richie’s superiors and all but a confession from Alfonse, Richie goes through with the wire transfer. Richie’s career has pretty much peaked now that he has the grounds to take down a mafia boss on top of several corrupt politicians.

But then, Irving’s elaborate con reveals itself to Richie. As it would turn out, Alfonse was not Tellegio’s attorney but just one of Irving’s associates. The 2 million Richie has made his boss transfer was never transferred to Tellegio’s account and had instead basically disappeared. Moreover, his department had also gotten an anonymous call from someone offering 2 million in return for Irving and Sydney’s amnesty and a short sentence for Carmine. Irving has set this whole thing up. By baiting the FBI with the chance to catch Tellegio, Irving has managed to con them out of big money that he later uses to his advantage. All he needed then was a fall guy: Richie. Sydney’s intentions to seduce Richie in order to gain the upper hand were well-established from the start. The sincerity of her affection for Richie starts to muddle up in the drama and chaos, but ultimately his trust in her plays a big role in Irving’s last con.

Does Tellegio Get Arrested?

Telligio (Robert De Niro) is the high-profile mafia boss and right-hand man of Meyer Lansky. Though he only appears on-screen a handful of times, it is still made abundantly clear to the audience that this is a man Irving does not want to mess with. Therefore, when Tellegio enters the Abscam operation’s periphery, it is extremely stressful for Irving. Richie, on the other hand, is absolutely ecstatic at the prospect. Ultimately, Tellegio’s involvement acts as a catalyst for Irving conning Richie. After Irving and Richie’s departure from the Abscam Operation, the investigation comes to an end. The FBI arrests several politicians, some of them genuinely corrupt while others with ends justifying their means. However, Tellegio, the full-fledged criminal, is not arrested.

Though Tellegio was involved in Carmine’s plans of rebuilding Atlantic City, he never directly took any money from the FBI’s fake sheik. Tellegio had only acted from the shadows with no tangible involvement. Therefore, a solid case could not be made against him. In the end, when every character has received their narrative dues, Pete, the mafia henchman, tells Irving that Tellegio is aware of what Irving has done for him. Thus implying Irving had purposefully made sure to steer clear of causing any trouble for the mafia boss. As previously mentioned, Tellegio is a dangerous man, and Irving had cleverly not made himself an enemy of the man.

Does Sydney End up With Richie or Irving?

Throughout the movie, the interpersonal relationships between characters drastically affect the plot and the course of their investigation. Sydney Richie and Irving are at the center of the narrative. Therefore the love triangle between them contributes greatly to the plot of the movie. At the start of the story, Sydney and Irving’s relationship almost comes across as something out of a rom-com. They’re like-minded individuals who understand each other and seem to have a special bond with each other. However, Irving’s marriage often scrutinizes this bond.

Irving has a wife, Rosalyn. Although there is no love or even affection left between the two, Irving still stays with her because of her son, Danny. Irving is Danny’s adoptive dad and clearly loves the kid a lot. Rosalyn is a deadbeat mother and wife, but Irving does not want to divorce her because he knows it would mean the end of his relationship with his son. So, Irving stays married to Rosalyn, and Sydney has to resort to just being his mistress. This tension finally snaps after Richie arrests Sydney and forces her and Irving to start working for him. Sydney wants to run away from this entire situation, but Irving refuses to because he doesn’t want to leave Danny behind. Irving’s outright refusal makes Sydney think Irving has also conned her and that she was never his top priority to begin with.

After Sydney realizes she has to comply with the FBI, she comes up with the idea to gain Richie’s trust. Richie already seems to like Sydney, and their relationship easily grows into one charged with romantic and sexual tension. At times, Sydney appears to have genuine feelings for Richie. She even stops hiding behind her fake Edith Greensley identity and reveals the whole truth to Richie. However, in the end, she uses their bond against Richie and helps Irving scam him. Not only does Sydney have a rich history with Irving, but they have also always had a real connection. In the epilogue of the movie, Sydney and Irving are together.

Read More: All David O. Russell Movies Ranked